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The Wii U: It’s All Just A Little Bit of History Repeating
Bashing Nintendo’s new console has quickly become a troll’s favourite pastime. Not a day has gone by in 2013 without a cluster of articles marked with the words DOOM and GLOOM in big bold letters, attracting fanboys from all sides of the fence like moths to a flame, caught in an endless argument of whose favourite manufacturer is better. Then news came that Deep Silver would not be publishing Dead Island: Riptide or Saints Row IV on the Wii U. It all reached a fever pitch during the GDC, when DICE confirmed that Battlefield 4 would not appear on the platform either. You could hear the carving knives being sharpened, with many asking how would Nintendo’s new console survive without major third-party support? Later in the week, Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton asked Epic co-founder Mark Rein if the Wii U would run their brand spanking new Unreal Engine 4. His response, one of laughter, was hastily clarified on Twitter as Epic sought to smooth their relations not only with Nintendo, but gamers in general, who hounded Rein’s account. Giving Epic the benefit of the doubt, I could not help thinking that we’ve heard these arguments before.
Then I realised we had.
Back in 2001, Nintendo launched the GameCube, its first home console not to feature cartridges as a distribution medium. The little box of fun used mini-DVDs, which burdened it with a lofty disadvantage compared to Sony’s PlayStation 2, and Microsoft’s first console, the Xbox. Both of these systems had the ability to play DVD films and audio CDs, marking the initial shift from dedicated game consoles to multimedia hubs. While not seen as a failure, the GameCube did not sell as expected, shipping just 22 million systems worldwide. This was close to the Xbox, which sold 24 million, while the PlayStation 2 lapped up sales of 155 million. The square, purple lunchbox of a console was deemed inferior. Nintendo was written off. At the 2007 GDC, Maxis/EA developer Chris Hecker dubbed its successor, the Wii, “a piece of [****]” and “two GameCubes duct-taped together.”
That sensation you are feeling is best described as déjà vu.
However, the Wii enjoyed surprising sales of 100 million, almost five times that of its predecessor, largely due to its novel, wide-ranging appeal. The Wii U, despite its name, has more in common with the GameCube than its motion-controlled sibling as it has been viewed as Nintendo’s attempt to re-engage “hardcore” gamers. Despite the GamePad featuring a 6.2″ touchscreen, it is more traditional than the wand-like Wiimote. The novelty value of the Wii that drew in the casual market is not at play here.
Sales are struggling, or so we are told. Six months in, the Wii U has reached the four million unit mark, exceeding early sales of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The numbers presented show a normal sales curve for a new console. Yet the doom and gloom articles continue like a constant flow of diarrhea, built on idle speculation, misplaced anger, or a desperate need to attract hits by using an easy target. There is an undeniable truth in all this, one which is so simple but seemingly lost to some within the gaming community, either too young to comprehend it, or too bitter to accept it.
Nintendo makes Nintendo games for Nintendo consoles.
Perhaps this is where the underlying hatred of the company stems from; if you want to play a Mario game, you have to buy a Nintendo console. The GameCube is proof of that. Both Super Smash Bros. Melee and Mario Kart: Double Dash sold over seven million copies. The ill-conceived Super Mario Sunshine still hit the six million mark. It also saw some of the best third-party games of its generation, such as Resident Evil 4, Baten Kaitos, Viewtiful Joe and Super Monkey Ball.
Certain companies, such as Deep Silver and EA, do not view the Wii U as a platform they are interested in developing for. Yet, last month, it was reported that Square Enix considered Tomb Raider to be a failure, despite selling more than 3.4 million copies. Development costs have skyrocketed this generation, and poor sales have meant the collapse of many fine studios. Cutting-edge graphics and gargantuan marketing campaigns come at a steep price. Capcom’s Viewtiful Joe sold slightly less than 300,000 copies on the GameCube, but because of the low development cost, this was seen as a modest success.
Despite what is being reported by certain individuals and publications, it is extremely unlikely the Wii U will suffer a drought of non-Nintendo games. Most companies need to cast their nets as wide as possible, and cannot afford to turn their nose up at a brand new user base. The console may not see the AAA behemoths that will populate the PS4 and Xbox 720, but the gaming world is slowly realising that this may no longer be a sustainable business model. Is that necessarily a bad thing? A restrained budget would hopefully lead to a shift in focus from the aesthetics of a game to its mechanics, such as story, design and gameplay. For instance, compare the Wii’s Xenoblade Chronicles with Final Fantasy XIII and its sequels. One was pretty. The other was fun to play. The fact that a growing number of independent developers are seeing profit on vastly reduced budgets only helps to underline this point.
Nintendo, both as a company and as a creative force, breeds innovation. The Wii U eShop is already attracting scores of small indie developers with fresh and exciting new games such as Cloudberry Kingdom, Citizens of Earth and Scram Kitty and His Buddy on Rails, all of which we hope to explore in more depth soon. As for the larger AAA titles, you may have to purchase the Xbox 720 or PlayStation 4 (which I fully intend to do) in order to play the best console version of Battlefield 4, or the exclusives that Sony and Microsoft will be releasing from their subsidiary studios. Nintendo too will have their exclusive games, built on its history of quality titles, memorable characters, and people constantly predicting their failure. And gamers will definitely get their first taste of the Wii U’s second wave of games at this year’s E3 Expo in June, which might be a very welcome bit of history repeating for fans of The Big N.